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US stocks little changed as health care debate continues

U.S. stocks are treading water Thursday morning as investors wait for news about the fate of the Republican-backed health care bill, a centerpiece of President Donald Trump’s business-friendly agenda of cuts to taxes and regulations and greater infrastructure spending. Banks are pulling out of a recent slump as bond yields and interest rates rise while Alphabet, Google’s parent company, leads technology stocks lower.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index remained at 2,348 as of 10:15 a.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average added 5 points to 20,666. The Nasdaq composite lost 7 points, or 0.1 percent, to 5,814. The Russell 2000 index, which tracks smaller companies, gained 5 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,350.

About two-thirds of the stocks on the New York Stock Exchange were higher. Stocks also wavered on Wednesday after a steep sell-off the day before.

RETAIL: PVH, which owns the Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger brands, jumped after its fourth-quarter profit and sales topped analyst estimates. It said sales for the Hilfiger brand grew in the latest quarter and its business is doing well in spite of high discounts in the U.S. The stock gained $8.63, or 9.5 percent, to $99.48.

Discount retailer Five Below also climbed after it surpassed Wall Street projections in its fourth quarter. The stock rose $3.87, or 10.1 percent, to $42.

ALPHABET AD ARGUMENT: Alphabet fell as a YouTube advertising boycott spread. Companies like AT&T, Verizon and others have suspended their YouTube ad campaigns in the last week because their ads were appearing alongside videos promoting terrorism and other unsavory subjects. The ads are placed automatically and Google has said it will do more to block offensive videos. YouTube is one of the fastest-growing parts of Google’s ad system.

Alphabet lost $13.55, or 1.6 percent, to $836.25.

HITTING REVERSE: Ford dipped after the automaker forecast a profit of 30 to 35 cents a share in the first quarter, far below the 47 cents per share analysts expected. Ford said its profit will decrease compared to last year because of higher costs for commodities, warranties, and business investments, and lower sales volumes. The stock fell 15 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $11.62.

HEALTHCARE VOTE: Congress is scheduled to vote on the American Health Care Act Thursday, and Republican leaders are trying to hold together a coalition to pass the bill. Concessions being offered to the conservatives, who sought to limit requirements for health plans to offer certain benefits including substance abuse and maternity care, appeared to be scaring off moderate Republicans.

Health care stocks traded slightly lower overall. Drug companies were down while insurance companies were mixed and medical equipment makers made small gains.

ENERGY: U.S. crude oil lost 30 cents to $47.74 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, shed 21 cents to $50.43 a barrel in London.

UNEMPLOYMENT: More people applied for unemployment benefits last week, according to the Labor Department, but applications are still at a low level that points to a healthy job market. Benefits applications rose 15,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 258,000. Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the statistics suggest relatively few Americans are losing their jobs.

BONDS: Bond prices edged lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which has skidded over the last few days, rose to 2.41 percent from 2.40 percent.

CURRENCIES: The dollar inched up to 111.06 yen from 110.92 yen. The euro slid to $1.0778 from $1.0798.

OVERSEAS: Germany’s DAX added 0.3 percent and the CAC 40 in France rose 0.2 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 index declined 0.1 percent. In Japan the Nikkei 225 gained 0.2 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was flat and the South Korean Kospi gained 0.2 percent.

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